My favorite kinds of gifts to give are of the edible kind. The thought and effort that goes into it is enough to make anyone grateful and appreciative. I get just as much enjoyment out of making and giving them as others do from receiving them.
So as much as I love baking during this time of year, it’s got to be easy. Otherwise, I won’t enjoy it as much. I love a good challenging recipe every once in a while, but not when you need to make mass quantities of something. No one’s going to judge you if you opt for something easy. Well, unless it’s some Sandra Lee-esque ridiculously-lazy-just-put-some-store-bought-pre-made-ingredients-together-and-call-it-something-cutesy-and-original type of thing. In that case, I judge. Can’t you tell?
A couple of years ago, I made Giada De Laurentis’ Holiday Biscotti. When it comes to baking holiday gifts, I’ve always loved the concept of using ingredients that are of the colors representing whichever holiday it is. You know, black and orange for Halloween, red white and blue for 4th of July, or of course, red white and green for Christmas. I also like for it to represent my family being Italian. So, this recipe is perfect. And it’s as easy as biscotti gets. Especially when you have step-by-step, photo instructions!
(Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentis)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest*
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
- 2/3 cup dried cranberries
- 12 ounces good-quality white chocolate
- Red and green sprinkles
*To zest a lemon, grate the yellow outer skin with a microplane or any fine grater, just until you see white.
The first thing I prefer to do when baking is get all of the ingredients out. That way I’m not running around the kitchen gathering ingredients the whole time. Also get out all of the measuring cups and spoons you’ll need, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make sure there’s nothing in your oven, so you don’t, ya know, accidentally start a fire in your kitchen or anything like that (which I’ve idiotically come close to doing before).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.
Next, place the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer if you have one (otherwise this can be done using a hand mixer). Speaking of sugar…
That above is the little something extra and special that I like to add to these cookies. A little touch of mine to put even more love into them. If you ever use a vanilla bean for a recipe, save the pods and stick them in a jar along with some granulated sugar (that’s what those twig looking things are). It adds a subtle yet noticeable vanilla scent and flavor to your sugar, which will be apparent in whatever you bake with it. I gave these cookies to my co-workers last year, and they were all asking what the special ingredient I added was – without me even mentioning it. I can’t think of it being anything but the vanilla sugar.
Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed, using the paddle attachment. Do this until the mixture looks like clumpy wet sand, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed (a rubber spatula works best).
Add in the eggs one at a time. Let the first egg get fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the second egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl one more time and make sure everything is mixed.
Lower the mixer speed to medium-low, and slowly add in the flour mixture.
Let everything mix together, once again scraping down the sides when needed. The dough will seem a little dry and tough, but that is what you want.
Get all of the dough off of the paddle, and stir in the dried cranberries and pistachios.
Line a large heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. You could also spray it with cooking spray, or use a very cool baking tool called a silpat (about $15 at Walmart or Target). On the baking sheet, form the dough into a 13″ long, 3″ wide log. And here’s an old Italian biscotti-making tip: wet your hands before handling and shaping the dough. It keeps the dough from sticking to your fingers. You can estimate the size of the log – a little bit longer than your forearm, and a little bit wider than your index finger.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes until slightly golden brown. Let it rest for 30 minutes after it’s finished baking.
After it’s rested and cooled, cut it on the diagonal with a serrated knife into pieces 1/2 to 1″ thick.
Melt the white chocolate on a double boiler. This is how a double boiler is set up:
Just fill a small saucepan about 1″ of the way up with water, and bring it up to a simmer. Fill a heat-safe bowl with the white chocolate, and place the bowl on top of the saucepan. Stir the white chocolate until it’s melted and smooth. Immediately move on to the next step before the chocolate starts to harden.
Using a large spoon, smear the melted white chocolate on one end of each cookie, then sprinkle with the red and green sprinkles. This has to be done somewhat quickly so that the white chocolate doesn’t harden and the sprinkles stick.
And they’re done! Happy holiday baking and edible gift-giving!
And remember…the edge pieces are always the chef’s sample :)